When we last checked on the Phoenix Coyotes, the wards of the league were hanging around the respectable neighborhood of the NHL standings despite the parlous financial state of the club, home crowds the size of the waiting list on a Friday night at
Now well past the midway mark of the season, the tale of these humble hockey orphans who learned to steal -- how about those two late regulation goals and stunning overtime win in Detroit on Tuesday? -- has taken another twist.
And this time we don't mean
When the sun rose over all of
Yes, you might have seen this movie before. Last year at the All-Star break, the Coyotes were in the same position. Then the season went into the commode. From February until the end of the regular schedule, Phoenix won 12 of 31 games and all the good work that former coach
There is no guarantee that the Coyotes won't stumble their way out of the playoffs, even though that improbable 5-4 win at Joe Louis Arena is a solid indicator it shouldn't happen. But general manager
"The big difference," Maloney says, "is we have guys who have 500, 600 NHL games. They've been through the wars. They know how to win a one-goal game."
"If you look at the talent, it's probably better than most people realize," says Doan, the captain. "If you look what guys have done in their best years, (Radim) Vrbata's scored (27),
Doan is peering out of glasses tinted the color of a desert sunrise. Vrbata, a disaster in Tampa Bay last season before finishing in the Czech Republic, did have 27 goals in 2007-08, but it was the only time he's cracked 20 since his NHL debut in 2001-02. Prucha earned his 30 goals as a power-play specialist with the New York Rangers in the offensively puffy post-lockout season of 2005-06. In the succeeding three, Prucha scored 35 in 168 games. Pyatt's one 20-goal season came in Vancouver in 2006-07. Lang was playing effectively before a torn Achilles cut short his season in Montreal last winter, but the 39-year-old last averaged a point-per-game in 2003-04.
The agglomeration of middling offensive talent has left the Coyotes about where they should be -- 11th in the conference in goals, which, incidentally, is ahead of the Red Wings.
"I'd found a home in the league creating energy," Upshall says. "But I think when I found myself in other situations, I didn't bear down like I should have. Carrying the puck on a three-on-two, I wouldn't try to make moves. When I got here" -- he was traded to Phoenix at the 2009 deadline for
On another team blessed with more talent and a heftier payroll -- the Coyotes' league-approved cap hit is around $41.5 million - Lombardi and Upshall might still be in a complementary role. In Phoenix, the pair have been the fulcrum of the first line with Doan, riding shotgun in recent weeks
"The way we put it to our team is that we have to hang around in games and find a way to win," says coach
And so the blueliners have. Phoenix has gotten 31 goals from its defense, including a combined 24 by Jovanovski, budding star
Gee, isn't wallowing in some statistics better than hanging around downtown Phoenix waiting for a Judge
Doan said the jurist's name hasn't been mentioned around the dressing room in weeks. No, the other day he and
The answer is no. The Finn didn't start playing in the NHL until 1988-89. The last time the franchise made it past the first round was 1987.
Maybe these 21st-century Oliver Twists do wind up writing the most delightful story of the season. (Wouldn't you love to see a league-owned team upset some owners by knocking off their clubs? Nothing better than a great conflict of interest angle to the playoffs.)
Of course, the Western Conference is a minefield -- Detroit is looming in ninth place, currently six points back of the Coyotes -- and the March schedule, with five straight road games in the East followed by a single home game followed by two more matches in the eastern time zone, is not exactly, as Tippett puts it, "Phoenix friendly." Nor is the cavalry riding into town at the trade deadline as it does for most playoff contenders looking to upgrade. Somehow you guess Maloney won't be in on any
"If San Jose brings in another D-man," Upshall says, "well, all I can say is that we'll compete with them to the bitter end. Bring it on. We'll be ready."
In our fun with numbers portion of the program, consider this: Looking at the
For those Nervous Nellies in Montreal who are now yapping for general manager
Although no two circumstances are identical, Montrealers -- who live in a province where the motto on the license plate reads (in French), "I remember" -- should recall the early career of another goaltending prodigy:
Roy was bulletproof while leading the Canadiens to a surprise Stanley Cup as a rookie in 1986, but he essentially split the job with
As long as the division of labor between his goalies does not divide the dressing room, Gainey should be in no rush to move either goalie prior to the trade deadline. This summer, he can choose between the restricted free agents -- Price or Halak. Or, again, both.